I teach at a Title I school, which means that many of my students don’t have a lot of things that other kids in other places might take for granted. My yearly roster numbers have varied from a mostly manageable 111 to a ridiculously over-crowded 171. No matter how chaotic the school year might be, there are always a few students who make an impression that lasts far beyond June.
One of this year’s early front runners is a kid I’ll call Quiet. His real name means noble, strong and virtuous and I can tell already that’s the kind of man he’ll grow up to be. Quiet has recently been exited from the ESOL program and works diligently to keep up in mainstream classes. He is kind and helpful and he has eyes like Bashful of The Seven Dwarfs.
When I was crushed by the death of a childhood friend early in the school year, Quiet approached me after class to offer his condolences. The sincere simplicity of his words and the shy empathy that shone from his eyes told me that he is a child who has known such sorrows himself.
A few weeks later I celebrated my birthday and Quiet approached me again. This time he apologized for not knowing it was my birthday and told me he was going to bring me a gift. I thanked him for the thought and assured him that a gift was not necessary, but he insisted and said that although it wouldn’t be much, he wanted to give me something.
Two days later I was standing at the classroom door greeting each of the students as they arrived. Quiet waited until his classmates had entered the room and then reached into his backpack. He pulled out a still-cold can of Crush grape soda and handed it to me with an almost apologetic smile. “I told you it wouldn’t be much, Miss. Happy Birthday.”
How do you tell a kid that a can of soda is the best birthday gift you’ve received without sounding disingenuous? I hope someday he’ll look back on his gesture with pride and not shame or “oh-God-I-was-such-a-dork” embarrassment. I hope he’ll understand what I really meant when I said, “Thank you! I love it.”
My job can be frustrating. It’s demanding. If you care enough to do it properly, it’s hard. And it starts way too early in the morning for a night owl like me. It never stops. But it’s also fun and challenging. Its rewards are largely intrinsic: a can of soda offered by a golden-hearted kid; an email from a recent graduate who has suddenly realized that I actually knew what I was talking about; a shout-out on my facebook page from the college junior who has taken to heart some long-forgotten advice (I said that?! Go me!); college break visits to my classroom to introduce a new love to “my favorite teacher”; sweet, covert notes of apology for acting up in class. I’ll likely never be a millionaire, but I am blessed.
It’s good to be me.